Autoworld is so much more than a museum, which becomes clear once you enter the Parc du Cinquantenaire (French) or Jubelpark (Dutch). In the centre of the carefully landscaped parc lies the Arch of Triumph surrounded by historical buildings, where a.o. Autoworld is located.
The dream of King Leopold II
In 1880 Leopold II (1835-1909) entrusted architect Gédéon Bordiau with the design of a monumental parc with a triumphal arch and colonnade, in honor of the 50th birthday of Belgium's independance. The arch was meant to become the junction connecting the Rue de la Loi (Wetstraat in Dutch) and the planned Avenue de Tervueren (Tervurenlaan in Dutch). Léopold II was set on turning Brussels into a livable city, besides being a beautiful and prestigeous one; a city that could compete with other major European metropolises. He regarded the Parc du Cinquantenaire as the ideal site for trade fairs and expositions, like f.e. the National and World Expo. It's in light of the World Expo of 1888 that a huge hall in steel and glass was built at the rear of the triumphal arch (still under construction at the time). The hall's roof contruction had a span of 48 meters, an exceptional length for that time, and as such the building was a beautiful reference for Belgium's flourishing steel and glass industry. With time, the hall was split into two symmetrical parts which created a wide square (the Esplanade) featuring an unobstructed view from the triumphal arch towards Tervuren.
A lot of time and means went into the construction of the triumphal arch, which was only finished in 1905 by French architect Charles Girault after the death of Bordiau. Instead of one arch Girault provided the monument with three majestic arches that together are 30m wide and 45m high. A remarkable fact: his design was initially refused by the monument commission for being... too small! The monument contains 3 equal arches with a bronze statue above the middle one. Initially, the aim was to make an allegory in honor of the arts and industry, but eventually a more patriotic theme was chosen: the statue presents Brabant on a chariot, pulled by four horses with a national tricolour in hand. The four-horse chariot was realized by the "Bau Ornamente Fabrik" from Karlsruhe, and its high quality and size - the horses alone measure 6 meters high - were very much to the King's liking. At the foot and on both sides of the triumphal arch, eight images symbolise the other Belgian provinces. The artworks were made by prominent artists from the time like Thomas Vinçotte, Jef Lambeaux, Charles Van der Stappen, Albert Desenfans and Guillaume De Groot. The final inauguration of the monument took place in 1905 by King Léopold II in celebration of Belgium's 75th birthday. In 1910, two additional walls were added that connected the spacious halls to the colonnades, as such emphasizing the esplanade's monumental structure.
At the beginning of the previous century, the Parc du Cinquantenaire was a dream location for trade fairs, races and as of 1902 an annual Bike and Car Fair. The Parc du Cinquantenaire held much entertainment value, but with time short term events had to make space for permanent expositions. Furthermore, as the surrounding neighbourhoods became more densely populated, less space was left for the organization of international expositions or trade fairs. Nowadays, the Parc du Cinquantenaire accommodates the Royal Military Museum, the Museum of Art & History, the Brussels Air Museum and Autoworld.
As of 1902 a motor car and cycle show was organized every year in the Parc du Cinquantenaire by the Car and Cycle Manufacturers Trade Association (the ancestor of the current FEBIAC), which took place in the hall where the Air Museum is currently located. However, other competitive car fairs were organized in Brussels: in 1892 the Union Auto Veloce had already installed the first cycle fair in the capital, which quickly evolved into the "Salon du Cycle et de l'Automobile" (with its first edition in 1897). That explains why in 1902 two automobile fairs took place. During the first edition of the "new" car and cycle fair in the Parc du Cinquentenaire, 82 exhibitors participated covering 2/3 of the available space, the remaining space was transformed into a race route for test drives. As of 1903 the beforementioned would be the only automobile fair in Belgium. Between 1915 and 1919 no fairs were organized due to World War I. Luckily the war did not mean the end of the fairs, on the contrary: in the first post-war edition of 1920, a record number of manufacturers of chassis and bodywork exhibited. The success remained until 1936, when the Salon moved to the new and more spacious location of the "Eeuwfeestpaleizen" on the Heysel.
The World Automotive Center
Throughout the years the hall that houses Autoworld today was used for different purposes. During WWI it served the German army as a garage. The Mundaneum, whose origins went back to the end of the 19th century, was installed there in 1920. Its founders were two Belgian lawyers: Paul Otlet (1868-1944), spiritual father of documentation, and Henri La fontaine (1854-1943), winner of the Nobel Peace Prize. The Mundaneum, which became a universal centre of documentation during the 20th century, was behind the creation of various different international standards dedicated to knowledge and its spread.
After WWII the hall was used for various purposes: office of the ministry of economic affairs, storage area for the equipment of the ADEPS and even a resting place for pigeons taking part in competitions! Little by little the building fell into decay until 1984, when it was chosen to house the Mahy Collection.